The fisher folk called this India’s biggest water scam and said that they would continue protesting until the map is withdrawn.
The fishing community at Ennore Creek formed a human chain on Wednesday to protest against a map drawn by the Department of Environment that depicts the 6,469 acres of wetland area as a petrochemical plant.
Standing in the Kosasthalai River, the protesting men, women and children called it India’s biggest water scam yet.
In a press release, D Selvaraj, Kattukuppam said, “The ‘Neer Satyagraham’ is the first of our direct actions to hold the government accountable. We will escalate our protests if the government refuses to uphold the law and protect our water bodies.”
The original Coastal Regulation Zone map, approved by the Central Government in 1996, had marked the creek as a No Development Zone. However, the State Coastal Zone Management Authority released an ‘updated’ map, which shows the area to be a petrochemical park. Subsequent RTIs reportedly revealed that the Central government had approved the new map. What was once an estuary with a diverse wildlife where no development was allowed to take place is, as of July 2017, an industrial park.
It is unclear whom the fishing community can turn to for redressal as the Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal doesn’t have any members now.
The agitators said in a press release that the development of the Kamarajar Port, L&T Port, NTECL Vallur, HPCL, BPCL and parts of TANGEDCO’s power infrastructure were all made possible only through this new map, which leaves behind no trace of the creek or the Kosasthalai River. In October 2017, the Public Works Department decided to remove encroachments on the creek, specifically the road laid by Kamarajar Port and L&T Port across the Buckingham Canal
In January 2017, the collision of two ships at the Ennore Port resulted in an oil spill estimated to be around 251.46 tonnes. The fisher folk also warned that further encroachment would result in the flooding of upstream areas. “Further encroachment will severely increase risk of disastrous flooding for nearly 10 lakh people residing in Chennai and Thiruvallur districts,” the press release stated.
Speaking to TNM, RL Srinivasan, President, Kaattukuppam Fishermen’s Cooperative Society, said, “Nobody from the government has even asked about this protest. We will explain our problem to the Expert Appraisal Committee. Within a week, if there is no response, we will stage a protest on the illegally constructed road. We’re scared that by the time we are given justice by the courts, they will encroach even further.”
When asked what the government should be doing, he said, “They should restore the 1996 map and restore the status of the No Development Zone. The PWD should stop giving no-objection Certificates to these companies. We don’t know on what basis this is being done.”
An Expert Appraisal Committee of the Union Ministry of Environment will conduct a site visit on January 5 to verify the legality and environmental acceptability of Kamarajar Port’s proposal to divert 1,000 acres of the Ennore Creek for port infrastructure. The committee will meet the fisher folk and other complainants and stakeholders on January 6.
This article was originally published in The News Minute on 3.1.2018.